Caritas Uganda, an arm of Uganda Episcopal Conference/ Uganda Catholic Secretariat together with the Uganda Farmers Common Voice Platform has today released a study that highlights a co-relation between agricultural extension services and the performance of other sectors of the economy in Uganda such as Health, Trade and Industry, Water and Environment.

The report titled ‘A desk study to ascertain the cost of agricultural extension to performance of key productive sectors of the economy besides agriculture’ was conducted by the Department of Agribusiness and Natural Resource Economics College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Makerere University on behalf of Caritas Uganda. The study was set out to provide evidence on the benefits of Agricultural Extension to the performance of key productive sectors of the economy besides agriculture to include trade and industry, health and water and environment.

Speaking during a Press Conference held to release the findings of the study, Ms. Aguti Betty Rose – The Policy and Advocacy Specialist, Caritas Uganda said, ‘In Uganda, agriculture is the backbone of the economy and is dominated by small holder farmers who occupy majority of the arable land and produce most of the crop and livestock products, with most households directly or indirectly deriving their livelihood from the sector.

However, much as the agricultural sector is crucial to Uganda’s economy, it is still faced with challenges such as inadequate financing, unpredictable weather and minimal agricultural extension services. Currently, the number of farmers accessing agricultural extension is reported to range between 14 – 17%., while 40 – 50% access advisory services from fellow farmers and 25% access services via radio.

The National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADs) is estimated to reach about 17% of the farmers with variations based on region. If well executed, Agricultural Extension plays a crucial role in promoting agricultural productivity, increasing food security, improving rural livelihoods, and promoting agriculture as an engine of pro-poor economic growth.’

According to Ms. Aguti, the study was commissioned by Caritas Uganda through the Uganda Farmers Common Voice Platform (a brain child of Caritas Uganda); with the following findings:

a) Link between Agriculture and health
Agriculture and health have a two-way link in which agriculture can support health by providing food and nutrition and generating income that can be spent on health care yet agriculture can also pose major threats to health through health hazards linked to poor agricultural practices and systems. On the other hand, health problems can have disastrous effects on agriculture through lost labour, assets and lost income. Agricultural Extension can therefore be used as a tool of improving health through farmers adopting new methods and techniques of production, efficiently using their resources that result in food security, better nutrition as well as higher incomes that lead to better health outcomes and better health care for the family.

b) Link between Agriculture, water and environment

In-order to feed the ever increasing populations amidst reducing farm land, farmers are being encouraged to intensify agriculture to produce more food from the same area of land. This means adoption of high-yielding varieties, more use of pesticides and fertilizers. The use of pesticides and fertilizers has helped considerably to reduce crop losses and get better yield of crops such as maize, vegetables, and cotton.

However, pesticide use also imposes unfavorable effects in form of environmental degradation leading to economic losses in the long run. Mismanagement of pesticides and herbicides causes severe damage to water and environment and health related effects discussed above. Agricultural Extension therefore, comes here handy as it can help build capacity of farmers on proper usage of pesticides and herbicides as well as alternative practices and techniques such as organic farming that limits use of pesticides and herbicides. In addition, access to agricultural extension influences farmers to adopted environmentally friendly practices.

c) Linkage between Agriculture and Trade and Industry
The relationship between agriculture, Trade and industry in Uganda is complex. Many goods that Uganda exports to foreign countries are agricultural products in which the country earns foreign exchange from these exports. Likewise, most of the raw materials needed for industries are produced from agriculture sectors. Agricultural Extension which is an input in agriculture is necessary for this strong linkage.

It is also worth noting that Agriculture extension can contribute to trade by increasing the quantity of output produced by farmers which directly contributes to proportion of total output supplied to the market. In addition, by promoting good farm practices (farm biosecurity measures) and post-harvest handling, Agriculture extension increases farmer participation in the local and international markets. Increased market participation increases income of the rural farmers that in turn is re-invested in the economy through purchase of non-tradable goods and services. The impact of increasing agricultural productivity are wide-ranging and extend to economic growth, food security, poverty reduction, and livelihoods.
The Study then highlights the following as key recommendations that will contribute to the improvement of the agricultural extension system in Uganda:

1) There is need to advocate for increased funding for extension service delivery.
2) There is need for strengthened collaboration between Government and NGO for increased and effective extension service delivery.
3) There is need for stronger linkage between extension with research Institutions to enhance farmer’s knowledge on existing technologies and agronomic practices.
4) There is need to invest in the training of para-veterinarians (foot soldiers) because unskilled professionals have taken over the market of animal health hence declining its quality.
5) There is need to promote nutrition sensitive extension for nutrition sensitive agriculture.
6) There is need to adequately facilitate extension workers to effectively deliver quality extension services to small holder farmers.
7) There is need for investments in Management Information System especially for livestock, fisheries and environment to support tracking of impacts of extension services.
Ms. Betty Aguti concluded by noting that in order for the Government of Uganda to achieve its objective of a middle income status by 2040, there is need to increase agricultural productivity among small holder farmers, which she said can only be achieved through increased investment to extension service delivery.